WICHITA, Kan. — All season Michigan’s free-throw shooting was a black mark.
In a dose of irony on Saturday night, Houston missed two free throws with 3.6 seconds left to set up a buzzer-beater for the ages.
Freshman Jordan Poole connected on a 3-pointer with no time remaining, delivering a 64-63 win over the Cougars to send Michigan to the Sweet 16.
Michigan guard Jordan Poole celebrates his game-winning basket in a second round NCAA Tournament game against Houston.
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“I didn't know it went in,” Poole said. “I looked at the bench. I was always thinking if I hit a shot like that I didn't want to get tackled. So I was trying to avoid everybody, but I gave up and they tackled me. And it was an amazing experience.”
The Wolverines will play the winner of No. 2 seed North Carolina and seventh-seeded Texas A&M Thursday at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Tar Heels beat UM 86-71 in November.
Michigan trailed 51-46 with 8:16 left, and Rob Gray was starting to heat up. But Michigan got it all back in one possession — Charles Matthews made a 3 and Jon Teske was fouled under the basket. Teske made both free throws.
“That was a big play,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said.
There were two ties and five lead changes in the final four minutes. The most consequential moment, aside from Poole’s heroics, was two missed free throws by Houston’s Devin Davis with 3.6 seconds left. The Cougars led 63-61. Two more points would have sent Houston to LA.
Davis finished 9 of 12 from the free throw line, missing 3 of 4 attempts in the final 45 seconds.
“It's hard to put into words,” Gray said. “I feel like we had the game won.”
Poole only played 11 minutes all night and his only three points of the second half came at the buzzer. Isaiah Livers found Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman at half court with the inbounds pass, Abdur-Rahkman then passed to Poole on the right wing.
“It’s hard to believe,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I’m a little speechless right now. I’m just trying to just appreciate the moment of what just happened.”
Abdur-Rahkman and Moritz Wagner scored a team-high 12 points. Duncan Robinson and Charles Matthews had 11. Poole finished with eight.
Zavier Simpson embraced his Saturday night matchup Gray, Houston’s sharpshooter, with excitement.
The former Lima Senior standout who spearheads Michigan’s vaunted defense was enthusiastic. The second protagonist in the two-man act dismissed Simpson’s dexterity.
“I don’t care if you’re a good defender or not,” Gray said. “Good defense, better offense.”
The box score will shot Gray scored 22 points, but it came on 23 shot attempts. He also had three turnovers.
“I played good D,” said Simpson, who finished with two steals and a block. “Gray’s a good guard. But at the same time, we won -- that’s what’s important. With a shot like that, I don’t want to think about this and that. He’s a great point guard. Excellent team.”
Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon, Nebraska’s Glynn Watson Jr., Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, and Purdue’s Carsen Edwards probably shared Gray’s pre-game thoughts. But all four left the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden shaking their heads. They averaged 11 points and combined to shoot 14-of-52 from the field and just 7-of-26 from 3-point range.
On Thursday, Montana’s talented guards Ahmaad Rorie, a former four-star recruit who transferred from Oregon, and Michael Oguine combined for nine points in the second half. Simpson was on the bench for 16 minutes of the first half while the duo shot 50 percent and scored 21 points.
Prior to Saturday’s game, the last 10 point guards Simpson’s faced averaged 10.8 points, 3.5 assists and 1.6 turnovers while shooting a cheerless 34.9 percent.
When it comes to scoring, Gray is in the mold of Steph Curry, with a quick release, crafty off-the-dribble set of skills. He scored a career-high 39 points — 21 of Houston’s final 22 — against the Aztecs, including the game-winner with 1.1 seconds left. He was 12-of-25 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3. His season averages are 19.2 points and 4.4 assists per game.
Gray had 13 of 15 points during one portion of the second half. But his last points came with 4:52 left.
Michigan’s offense was out of sorts early for the second straight game. The Wolverines started 0-of-7 from the field and didn’t make their first basket until the 14:25 mark of the first half. Defense prevented Houston from opening a lead larger than 6-1.
Duncan Robinson hit back-to-back 3s and took a charge, providing a major spark for UM. The scoreboard went from 6-1 in favor of Houston to 17-11 Michigan, and the Wolverines pounced on the momentum.
It lasted for the better part of eight minutes until Houston clawed back. The game was tied at 28 at halftime. Both teams went ice cold. Michigan was 0 for its last 9 over the final 4:51. Houston was 1 for 11. Gray was visibly frustrated while shooting 2-of-11 in the half.
Intrust Bank Arena was not kind to UM’s shooters. They only made 5 of 16 3-point attempts against Montana and followed it up going 8 of 30 against Houston.
None was bigger than the eighth.
Said Poole: “I definitely was thinking whoever shoots it, I hope it goes in.”
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